Monday, August 26, 2013

August 25, 2013 Nurturing A Healthy Heart - Faithfulness

Galatians 5:22-23; Luke 18:1-8

I spent most of the 1980’s as an associate in Lawrenceburg, in Anderson County.  The church I served was a few miles south of town, with open land behind it.  Unfortunately, it became a “meet-up” place for people.  The parking lot behind the church was totally concealed from the highway, and I could look out of my office window and see couples meeting in the parking lot below.  They would drive both cars, park, and drive away in one of the cars.  One couple had been meeting like this over a period of weeks, and, to be honest, it really got under my skin.  Not at the church, please, was my attitude.  One day, after seeing them drive off in one car, I went into the minister’s office and said you know what we should do?  We should go out and let the air out of one of their tires.  That would let them know they are being watched.  He said no, and I thought perhaps, he’s right.  Maybe we should just leave them alone.  But then he said No.  What we should do is let the air out of two of the tires, that way they’ll have to call someone to come and help them.  And then they’ll have to explain what their car is doing parked behind our church.  So we went out and let the air out of both of the back tires.  We never saw them again!

As we continue our series, Nurturing A Healthy Heart, this morning we come to faithfulness.  As I began thinking about faithfulness that story came to mind, because when we hear the word faithfulness, we think of our relationships, and when we think of relationships, we think about our marriages.

A lack of faithfulness in marriage is one of the most emotionally and spiritually destructive events a person can experience.  Some people are able to work through that devastation, but many do not.

This morning, I want to speak two words – a pastoral word and a theological word.

First, the pastoral word, and it is about relationships.  Here it is in a very simple sentence – if you are having relationship difficulties, do what you can to fix them.  It is not a one-person task to fix a relationship, but do what you can.  And here are a couple of things when it comes to fixing a relationship –

1.  There is your side, the other person’s side, and the truth.  Sometimes, when I counsel with people, I can’t help but wonder as I hear two very different accounts of the relationship and the problem.  We must learn to hear what the other person is saying, and that isn’t easy, especially when we are hurt.  It’s hard to hear anything through our hurt.

We all see through a “lens” in life.  In relationships, that lens is often distorted by anger, frustration, disappointment, and hurt.  When we are looking through a lens shaped by those emotions, we are unable to see some of the truths we need to see and understand.

2.  If you don’t see a relationship going anywhere, do the person a favor and don’t string them along. 
I heard some rather amazing poll results the other day.  The results of this poll found that 73 per cent have made do with their partner because their true love slipped through their fingers.  73%! 
You can’t toy with the heart of another person.

3.  Be honest.
I find that people, as much as the truth may hurt, really want to hear the truth.  We all deserve the truth.  Be honest in your relationships.

I will add a disclaimer here.  Some people love to use the truth as a weapon.  These people want to use truth – or their version of it – to bring hurt.  It’s easy to see when this is coming – it usually if prefaced by this comment – I want to tell you something in love.  I generally find there is very little love in what they have to say, but plenty of hurt.

4.  Get help when you need it.
If you are sick and cannot get better on your own, what do you do?  You call a doctor, don’t you?  We don’t mess around with our health, so why do we so often drag our feet?  Get help!

I had a couple come to me once and their marriage was in really bad shape.  I met with the husband one day and he was pretty clueless, even by guy standards.  We talked a while, and I told him they really needed to talk to a professional, and I recommended one to him.  I remember the day when they came to me to say that counselor had saved their marriage.  And not only saved the marriage but made it stronger and better than before.

5.  Love is always worth the work.
Love, and relationships, are not always easy.  Relationships take work, but love is worth the work. 
That’s the pastoral word; now the theological word.

The passage we read this morning comes from one of the parables of Jesus, as found in Luke’s gospel.  Hear our readings this morning, first from Galatians, where we find the Fruits of the Spirit, and then from Luke’s gospel –

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.
He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought.
And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think,
yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.
And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?
I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

This parable comes after Jesus had been questioned about when the kingdom of God would come.  Jesus spoke with his disciples about the future.  They were worried, very worried, about the present and the future.  Their world seemed to be falling apart.  As bad as the present was, they wondered if things are this bad now, what’s the future going to be like?  What’s going to happen to our children and grandchildren?

Does that sound familiar?  Have you ever worried about what the future holds for your children and grandchildren?

The world always seems to be falling apart.  People are always worried about the future, and for good reason, as there are some very real concerns.

So Jesus tells this parable about a widow who goes to a judge seeking justice.  We don’t know what she had experienced, but someone had taken advantage of her in some way or perhaps cheated her out of money.  Jesus said the judge neither feared God nor cared about men (verse 2).  This judge did not care about the woman or her problems.  He was, sadly, a very corrupt judge.

We have friends who adopted internationally.  They were encouraged to bring gifts for the judge who was presiding over their case.  Gifts?  I don’t think that’s the word we would use in our legal system.  This judge was many times worse.  He was openly corrupt and unconcerned about justice.  He was a Snidley Whiplash type of character, if you remember that cartoon.

The parable is often seen as a story of being persistent in our prayers, which is correct.  Luke tells us at the beginning of the passage that Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up (verse 1).  But people often assume Jesus means that if we pray often enough, and hard enough, God will eventually relent and grant us what we ask.  That is not at all what the parable is teaching.

In the parable Jesus is drawing a contrast between God and the unrighteous judge, not a comparison. The judge would not respond to her request and only did so after her repeated pleas.  The judge was eventually worn down and granted her request for justice in order to save himself from the headache of her perseverance and to spare himself the embarrassment of not acting upon her request.

The lesson Jesus teaches through the parable is that God is not at all like this judge.  We do not have to cajole or wear God out with our continual pleas.  In fact, Jesus says in Matthew 6:8 that your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  God is not like this judge.  He is not thinking, if they would just ask one more time, and with a bit more conviction, or if they would get another ten people praying, then I would step in and help out.

The problem is not that God does not hear our prayers; the problem is in our trying to understand God’s ways and learning to adapt to his time frame.  We often struggle to understand the manner in which God works, wondering why he doesn’t seem to answer our prayers.  The truth is, God answers our prayers, but the time frame in which he answers, and the manner in which he answers, are not always understandable to us.

God tends to work over the long haul; we tend to operate in the moment.  It’s hard to think and act in our long-term interests.  We have enough difficulty getting through today; why should we worry about tomorrow?

At the end of the parable Jesus flips the question of faithfulness around – will God find that we are faithful?  Will we continue to be faithful in our prayers and in our faith, even though we may struggle to see the hand of God at work in our lives?

I used to have a poster that said when you come to the end of your rope – let go.  It’s good advice to let go and to allow yourself to fall into the loving arms of God.  Trust and believe that he is working on your behalf.  You may not see his hand, but his hand is guiding your life.  You may not understand his plan, but his plan is one of goodness for your life.  You may not understand his timetable, but his goodness will come to you.

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